Sri Lanka 16: Nuwara Eliya

“I’m always amazed that, even when everything is going crazy, you’re still able to pull a day trip out of your ass.” – Daina, to me, regarding today.

Because that was today.

So it turns out the bus ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya was pretty scenic, though not as scenic as the train is supposed to be – again, we’ll find that out for sure in a couple of days.  Tea fields, waterfalls, rolling hills, lakes.  Wonderful way to get where you’re going, especially if you’re on the side of the bus that I was on.

Now, Daina was on the other side of the bus, because this bus definitely lacked space, and the whole “two of us sit on a three seat until we have to move” thing just wasn’t happening today.  I chose a seat on the right of the bus, Daina was seated a few rows back on the right of the bus.

He was also seated a few rows back of a puking woman.

Thankfully, he had a heads up from the woman next to him, who politely told him “She is going to vomit, close the window.”  He did, and soon enough, the window was covered in a multicoloured spew.

So, really, we both got some green in our view!

The bus ride was a bit nuts, due to the turns of the road, due to something creaking and squeaking below the bus, due to the crowding of the bus.  Overall, we definitely appreciated the seats over standing for four hours on the train, but wow, was not a relaxing trip.  Buses in and out of Kandy seem to be nuts, having only been on crazy ones going in, and now out, of Kandy.

Eventually, though, we got in to Nuwara Eliya.  As mentioned in the previous post, we had to find a new guest house due to some reviews about the first one quoting mold and mildew smell (no thank you) and the second one bailing on the first night we had booked.  We found one that looked (from the Booking map and description) close to Lake Gregory, one of Nuwara Eliya’s more beautiful parts, so we went with that one.

Now, for those of you who have used Booking, you might know that their hotel locations are not always entirely accurate.  This one wasn’t even close.  Add to that the fact that the tuk tuk drivers (yes, plural, we had to get one to ask another for help) seemed to have no idea where the place was.

First driver just seemed to have a bit of the dumb.  Didn’t know where we were going, called the property and then asked how much we had paid for the booking (I think he was touting for someplace else), couldn’t figure out where Lake Gregory was (pretty big landmark in Nuwara Eliya), so we quickly went to tuk tuk two.

This guy also seemed to have no idea where the place was, but was at least able to ask others for help.  We negotiated 600 rupees for a 5 k ride, which seemed pretty steep considering what we’d paid before, but the fact that a local (who could not have been working with this guy, having walked by with shopping bags and his family) seemed to be on board with the 600 made it sound okay.

Lake we thought we’d be close to.

So, soon enough, we were in the tuk tuk.  Past downtown…. and past Lake Gregory… and continuing to go past Lake Gregory… and stopping to ask directions multiple times….

We were in the “Rose Garden” area of Nuwara Eliya, which makes finding a particular hotel not that easy, since every one has “rose” in its name.  After circling for what seemed like hours, and me getting right agitated that we were nowhere near the town or where the map said, we finally found the right hotel, with who we thought was the owner and a little kid waving for us to come in.

The tuk tuk driver dropped us off, gave me some sass about more money because it took so long, and at that point I was about ready to blow, so I gave him a little extra just to maintain my sanity, because if I was going to argue with him, it was going to get really bad.  We got inside the property which, for all its distance, is really quite lovely, and started talking to the owner…

‘s friend, who also manages the other hotel next to ours.  After confirming that we got hosed on the tuk tuk (happens), we learned that he was letting us in because the owner was in town, that it was a newer guesthouse so they were still working out some kinds (like the map and having somebody regular to let you in, I guess), that Nuwara Eliya was booked solid because of the weekend coming right by the Poya holiday (make sense), and that if we wanted to get into town, there was a bus that goes frequently and a tuk tuk should only cost us 300.  Oh, and he was going to package up some breakfast for us for tomorrow, since we’d be going to Horton’s Plain & World’s End at a pretty early hour.

Basically, my rage level was slowly dropping, as I went from “Shady tuk tuk taking me to a place that lied about where it was in the middle of nowhere” to “Nice man telling me how to get places and how everything works, and providing context.”

So, better.

At this point, we needed lunch, because even though I was getting soothed a bit from all of this crazy, I was on the verge of getting hangry.  So, we went looking for that bus.

We found a bus.

My first clue that we weren’t on public transit was that the guy on the bus was really eager to take us to Nuwara Eliya for free.  Then, the pieces began to fall into place.  Everybody on the bus was a bit loopy.  There was a snack cart at the back.  People were really overly complimentary about my tattoo, wanted to take pictures, and I was soon handed a bottle of Arrack, a local coconut-based liquor.

We had stumbled on to a party bus.

This was at about one in the afternoon, and apparently these were a bunch of engineers on a party tour, drinking along the way.  There were a couple semi-sober guys chatting us up, trying to make us at ease and ask nice, conversational questions in between super drunk guys offering us booze straight from the bottle.  Those of you who know me well know that I will share a drink with a local, but that I also have a thing about sharing bottles and cutlery.  Like, if I let you use my fork, you’re either family, one of my best friends, or married to me.  Same rules if we drink from the same bottle, though that one kind of slides if I’m drunk.

Anyway, no communal booze for me, nor did I partake in a large roll of something green (no idea what it was, but wasn’t taking chances at all considering penalties for that kind of thing are HUGE in Asia).  One guy did give me a frozen milk treat – kind of like the plastic-bag popsicles we’d give kids in Canada, so that was delicious.  After what was probably only ten bus minutes but felt like whatthefrick, we got dropped off at Lake Gregory.

They call Nuwara Eliya “Little England”, and it’s pretty easy to see why.  The houses are all quite colonial, the green spaces seem like something you’d see in the British country side, and, of course, everything has to do with tea.  Lake Gregory had paddle-boat swans, horse-back rides, boat rentals, green space to lie out on…  Really, it was like nothing we’d seen so far in Sri Lanka.  It’s not free to get in, mind you – 200 rupees a person if you’re a foreigner – but worth it for the beauty.

We kept walking into town, past Victoria Park and the beautiful post office, which looks more like it should be on a candy box or a model train set than in a Sri Lankan city.  Lunch was at De Silva Food Center, a packed local establishment that we got to in-between lunch and dinner (which meant no Sri Lankan food).  We both ordered Deviled food (Daina fish, me chicken) with a side of rice, and ended up getting seafood and chicken fried rice.  So that didn’t work out, but at least it was okay.  After crossing over to the grocery store to get some water and snacks, we decided to pull that day trip out of my ass after all.

Having some sense of price for the guest house owner friend and the LP, we went looking for a tuk tuk driver to take us to the Pedro Tea Estate (to see something a bit more legit than the Ceylon Tea Museum) and to see Lover’s Leap Waterfall (because waterfalls and name).  The guest house said people had been taking tours from there for about 1500, so I wanted lower than that.  It would be my win.

Our tuk tuk driver originally wanted 600 for Pedro, 500 for Lover’s, presumably to drop us back in the town centre.  I got him to 1000 for the whole trip, right back to the guest house in the rose garden.  I have no idea if that was great, but it felt good, so I was going for it.

We sped along to Pedro’s Tea Estate, which would be closing soon, and managed to get in on the last tea factory tour of the day, thanks to our tuk tuk driver rushing us to the right place in the estate.  The process was interesting, but the best part was an impromptu Q & A regarding the fact that the workers receive “tea powder”, or the lowest grade tea, as part of their wage.  We learned that, to get a higher grade, they’d have to give up two days’ salary.  The daily salary for each woman working in the tea fields was 650 rupees a day, contingent upon picking 18 kilograms of tea.

So, $6.50 Canadian a day for insanely hard work.

The good news is that there is a tea worker’s union, who is actively campaigning the politicians in the upcoming election to raise the wage to 1000 rupees a day.  So we’ll see how that works out.  Still, the tour guide was telling us that the workers would only work three days this week due to weather, holidays and a small tea yield.  Puts things into perspective.

After a great cup of tea with a wonderful view of the tea fields, we were off a steep, bumpy, rocky, dirt road to Lover’s Leap.  Beautiful waterfall, but what really made it were the local “guides”.

Three kids, who I’m guessing were between 14 and 6 (couldn’t quite figure it out from asking) took great interest in Daina and I as we exited the tuk tuk.  Guaranteed, these kids are there most days, offering walks up to the falls, practicing their English, showing people where to go, even though the trail is pretty clearly marked.  Still, it was adorable, never felt pushy, and the kids were really giving it.  Again, fascinated by the tattoos.  The smallest kid paired up with Daina, while the oldest two talked with me.  On the way up, it was talks about WWE.  On the way down, I was able to explain that my hair was dyed and we sung some Akon.  I was more shocked that I actually remembered Akon than anything.

Daina’s kid, though, went overboard on the cute.  While D was taking pictures of the tea fields, the little guy picked him a bouquet of flowers and gave it to him.

Needless to say, the kids got some sweets we had when we got back to the tuk tuk, plus a few rupees.  They worked for it, for sure.

Oh, and the waterfall was wonderful.  Ultimately not what we’ll remember about that trip, though.

We headed back to town, and our driver actually knew where we were going and got us there for the arranged price!  Victory!  We liked him so much that we set him up as our guy for Horton’s Plain and World’s End tomorrow morning.

You find a good tuk tuk driver, you stick with him.

So that was our crazy, crazy day in a nutshell.  Mentally exhausted, bit of a headache, not sure how it all happened, but it did.

And it was awesome.

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